Trigger Warning: Discussion about Eating Disorder and Body Image
When I was a sophomore in high school, I struggled with disordered eating. I didn’t know it at the time, because I was so young and thought that these things couldn’t happen to me. They only happened to imaginary girls in books and movies, right? I was unaware, but my best friend at the time was struggling with anorexia nervosa, and she shared her world with me. Tumblr blogs about self harm, starvation, strict exercise regimens, hip bones and thigh gaps. It painted such a seemingly appealing picture of a killer disease, and before I knew it, I was consumed. It started with cutting out meat and carbs. Then, sugar. Then suddenly, food altogether for days at a time. Binge eating, feeling guilt and then not eating and obsessing over calories became an identity, and before I knew it, I lost myself in a sea of self-loathing that longed to consume me altogether. I was disappearing, and masking deeply rooted pain in disordered eating.
It sadly took collapsing during a choir dress rehearsal in front of all of my peers for me to wake up and see that I was sick and if change didn’t come, I would wither away. I never sought professional help, and never opened up to anyone around me about my struggles because I was so ashamed of the dark places that they took me. I wish I could go back and grab little fifteen-year-old me by the face and tell her that no one would stop loving her because of what she did, that asking for help would be the strongest thing she could have done for herself. I wish I could tell her that she was lovely and precious and had so much to offer, that she was so much more than what she looked like or how much physical space she occupied in the world.
Thankfully, by divine intervention, I fell into a better crowd of friends who supported me, and showed me unconditional love and healthy habits and coping mechanisms and I found healing through my faith, a relationship with God and positive community.
I graduated high school free from self-harm and disordered eating. It was a little victory in what felt like a sea of defeat. Being a teenage girl was the most brutal experience I have weathered and I would never re-live it given the opportunity, but I would not take it back because it shaped me into who I am today. I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but the truth is that I didn’t truly love myself or my body until long after my high school days had gone.
We live in a society that thrives on comparison. We are surrounded by industries that encourage us to hyper-focus on everything we lack and brainwash us into believing that we must change to be enough. They set standards and labels on who we are supposed to be, especially as women. We all know this to be true. It’s so freaking hard sometimes, especially in a social media-focused world.
One of my favorite random internet quotes I’ve found- thank you, Pinterest- is as follows, “In a society that profits from self-doubt, loving yourself is a rebellious act.” – Author Unknown. In my adult life, and especially in my career as a portrait photographer, I have met some beautiful, incredible souls who touched my life in such profound ways and taught me a lot about self-love and body positivity. In 2019, I finally learned and truly embraced body positivity as a whole. So what does that mean for me now? It means that I promised myself that no matter how many changes happen in my body that I can or cannot control, no matter what shape or mass my body takes on, I will love myself relentlessly. I dress to express myself and my creativity and not to hide myself. I believe there is no “standard” of beauty, and I want to do everything I can do break down the barriers our society has placed on body image. Do I have days where I struggle to love my body and see it as beautiful? Of course, but I won’t let that stop me.
How does this all shape me as a photographer?
1. I love, embrace and accept clients of all body types equally.
If you’re reading this, I think you’re beautiful. I believe there is no person more or less beautiful than another. Size and weight are merely numbers and they do not define you. I believe that everyone of any size, shape, color or ability can feel beautiful exactly as they are if they are empowered to feel that way. I’ve been blessed to work with a variety of models and I am passionate about representation of all body types in my work. It’s something I’m always working on doing even better.
2. I will do everything I can to make you feel beautiful and loved during our time together.
If you speak to any of my clients, you’ll learn that I can get pretty ridiculous in what I do to pump them up during their session. I am known to yell “YAAAAAS WERK” or “WHO GAVE YOU PERMISSION?!” and other extremely out there affirmations at my clients during their session. You’re all freaking beautiful and you deserve to feel that way. I will unashamedly make a fool of myself to make sure you know it. Stepping in front of a camera is such a vulnerable, intimidating thing to do, and my goal is always to make sure my clients walk away from our time together feeling more confident than ever.
3. My heart breaks knowing there are people out there who are missing out on capturing memories because they don’t love how they look.
I am a big advocate for being in photos – clearly. But beyond my career as a photographer, I will always root for you to step into the frame. Even if it’s a bad hair day. Even if you’re feeling bloated. Even if you hate your outfit. Your loved ones don’t care about those things, but they will care about preserving precious memories with you. I don’t want you to miss out on freezing these special moments in time forever, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that stepping in front of my camera is a positive experience for you.
4. I don’t do retouching or body modification- on camera or off.
Last year, in an attempt to embrace self love, I booked a session with an extremely talented editorial boudoir photographer. I was so excited to get the images back and gift them to my husband for his birthday. I remember feeling physically uncomfortable doing some of the poses that I was asked to do, but I didn’t think much of it because I was told this is common for boudoir sessions. I later realized that I was being posed to stretch, hide and conceal certain parts of my body, and accentuate others. When I received a sneak peek of my gallery, I was shocked by what I saw. I cried. My body had been retouched and edited and it didn’t feel like my own anymore, and I immediately felt so inadequate. Were my back rolls -that never go away, no matter how much weight I lose- wrong? Was the texture of my skin unacceptable? Is my unflat stomach unacceptable? No, but when they were removed from my body through editing, and posing I began to feel that way.
It was at that moment that I decided in my own business, I would never retouch or alter people’s bodies. Zits are normal. Skin has texture. Teeth are not always perfectly white, and sometimes they are crooked and have gaps in between. Stomachs have rolls when you sit. Cellulite is normal. Arm flab is normal. Thighs that touch are normal. And all of these things are a beautiful part of being human. I don’t ever want to erase them or say that they are not acceptable- I want to immortalize and celebrate the beauty of humanity and that comes with it- imperfections and all.
If you’ve read all of this, I hope that my story empowers you to break out of what society sells as the standard and move forward to embrace yourself right now no matter what. I love you and I celebrate you, just as you are.